Kiley Palmer sat scrunched down inside her SUV, well-hidden by the tinted windows as she held up a camera and snapped pictures. The old man had been right. The fourth Mrs. Douglas had a visitor every morning when her husband left for work. Of course, Kiley had already known the woman was guilty. The first night after Kiley had been hired, she’d shifted into her wolf form and stalked the area.
The scents of the humans who came and went from the house hadn’t been numerous and she hadn’t been able to separate the older gentleman’s smell from other male odors easily. But she’d still had to get photographic proof for her client, since she couldn’t actually convince a human her nose told her the guy’s wife was cheating.
Maybe if the shifters went public like the Council wanted, she would be able to use one of her enhanced senses as evidence, but until then, she had to do things the old-fashioned way. So, she’d been stuck inside her vehicle, watching like a peeping Tom until she’d finally gotten the chance to use her camera.
“Gotcha,” she whispered to empty air, clicking four more pictures before the front door of the large house closed.
How stupid could this woman be? Not only did she kiss her lover in broad daylight, but he’d only waited ten minutes after the husband had left before he’d shown up. What if Mr. Douglas had been running late?
It might be possible the young man didn’t realize the woman he was sleeping with was married, but Kiley doubted it. She’d peeked inside the windows and seen the pictures of the couple.
Disgust made her stomach roll. She’d grown used to seeing spouses cheating by now, but Kiley really hated these cases. However, over sixty percent of her work centered around some sort of infidelity.
What Kiley really wanted to do full-time was the investigations that led her to reconnecting families. Those were the circumstances Kiley enjoyed. A bare month ago, she’d found a young man who’d moved away from his family and had disappeared right after his eighteenth birthday. The young man, Adam, had run scared because of his sexual orientation. Certain his family would disown him, he had left them before he’d be kicked out.
His mom and dad had been frightened and desperate. When Kiley had gotten the call for help, she’d put aside another cheating spouse job to locate their son.
She’d found him. Living in a small apartment without heat and food, struggling to get by. He’d cried when Kiley had told him his parents wanted him to come home. Adam had refused, confessing why he’d left in the first place. Since Adam’s mom had already told Kiley the reason she believed he’d run, Kiley had known that the kid’s parents only wanted him safe. She’d put Adam on the phone with his mom and even though she’d tried to give them privacy, she’d heard both sides of the conversation.
The sobbing, apologies and heartfelt loving words had had her tearing up, too. She would never have a family reunion like that, but at least she’d gotten to witness something beautiful.
She’d dropped Adam off at his parents’ house an hour after she’d located him.
Kiley still smiled every time she thought about that family’s happy ending. She hadn’t wanted to charge the parents, but she had a living to make, so she’d given them a price of half of what she normally made.
Mr. Douglas’ situation would help pay the rest of her bills this month, anyway. He had enough money to pay her full rate and then some.
She tipped back her head and closed her eyes, knowing she had plenty of time until Mrs. Douglas would be done with her lover. She squirmed a little in her seat, trying to get comfortable. Spring had finally come, warming up the afternoons, but the morning air still held a chill. Kiley hated being cold. She knew it was because of her childhood, but she couldn’t help it. She often thought about moving someplace where it never grew cold, like Arizona, but she hadn’t gotten up the nerve to seriously consider it. Here, she was safe. The Alpha of the local Pack didn’t expect too much of her and Kiley hardly ever had trouble with other shifters. Kiley might have been an anomaly when it came to wolf shifters, but she had to watch out for herself.
Fuck, she didn’t want her thoughts to go down that road. Kiley was happy in her little world and rarely let herself dwell on her past. She wouldn’t do it now.
Kiley reached for her coffee and found the cup empty. Damn, she thought, sitting back with a sigh. She contemplated running to the closest convenience store to grab another cup when a knock on the passenger window startled her.
She jumped, bringing her hand to her heart. The grin from the man on the other side of the glass annoyed and amused her at the same time.
It seemed her thoughts had conjured the man. She rolled down her window while scowling at the good-looking shifter. “Detective,” she greeted.
Detective Gray Mason continued to grin as he leaned against her door. He ran his gaze over her slowly and Kiley almost blushed. It was a very appraising look and made her hot.
“How’s it going?” he finally asked.
Kiley shrugged. She ignored the pulse of heat that flared between them. “Fine, until you scared the living daylights out of me.” She made sure to glare at him, although she didn’t mean it. She liked Gray, even when he annoyed her.
He chuckled in response. “I thought you might be sleeping on the job.”
Kiley crossed her arms over her chest and gave him her best pout. “So you also thought giving me a heart attack would be okay?”
Unfazed, he continued to smile. “All done here?” he asked.
Kiley looked at the house and then at him. With Gray turning serious, she knew it wasn’t so much a question as him telling her she was done. She nodded, because she knew she couldn’t say no.
He opened her door and held out a hand. “I need you to come with me.”
She rolled her shoulders and climbed from her vehicle, ignoring his offer of help. He stepped aside, giving her room as another man moved forward, drawing her attention. Kiley frowned at the guard. She didn’t know Wyatt well, but he had a reputation for being a hardcore fighter. Gray finding her wasn’t unusual, but he normally came alone when he collected her.
“What’s going on?” she asked Gray, snapping her gaze from one man to the other. Dread scrawled up her spine and unease settled in her stomach. This couldn’t be good.
“He needs to see you,” Gray told her quietly. “At the house.”
Kiley shook her head and backed toward her SUV. “No.” She knew what this weekend was about. She’d seen the many cars which had driven through town on their way up to the compound. The gathering of Alphas to discuss Council business ensured she would be nowhere near the local Pack.
Gray’s hand on her elbow stopped her. “It’ll be okay. I’ll stay with you,” he promised.
Of course Gray knew exactly how she felt. He was one of the few people who knew why she refused to join the Pack. Kiley hated being called a Rogue, but never would she ever put herself in the hands of another. No—she was responsible for herself and no one else got to make decisions concerning her.
“It’s important,” Gray said. “Please.”
The please almost got her. Kiley’s heart sank. She hated to refuse but couldn’t be anywhere near the compound with so many dominant male wolves. She’d do anything else for the Alpha who gave her the space she needed while not pressuring her to commit to the Pack. She and Tyler had an understanding and she didn’t want to disappoint or anger him.
“Come on,” Gray urged with a gentle tug.
Kiley tried to plant her feet. “I’ll follow you.”
Gray shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he quipped.
Kiley bit her bottom lip. Damn, she’d already used that trick.
“Wyatt will drive your vehicle and follow,” Gray explained. “You won’t be without a way home.”
Kiley knew she should be grateful. At least they were giving her a way out without depending on one of the Pack members. It was a small thing, but it made her relax a little, just as Gray had probably known it would. In the year the man had lived in her city, he had gotten to know her better than anyone else. Sometimes she hated that fact, like right then.
One foot in front of the other, she let Gray lead her to the big Hummer parked behind her SUV.
“This new?” she inquired. It had to be, since she’d never seen it before—damn, it was huge.
Gray shrugged and she grinned.
“Over-compensating much?” she teased.
Gray growled, opening the passenger door. “Get in.”
Kiley giggled. “Oh, yes, sir,” she said innocently, teasing Gray, which relaxed her. It had, after all, become one of her favorite activities.
Gray’s lips twitched as if he fought a smile. Kiley had settled in the seat and pulled her seat belt on by the time he’d made it to the driver’s door and gotten in. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
Gray was one of the few Pack members she would actually call a friend. A police detective, he matched her ideal of the perfect strong male. He was well built. The play of muscles under his dress shirt, the wide shoulders and the plain bulk of the man both intimidated and aroused her. His kind heart and quick wit were added bonuses.
There had been numerous times in the past she had wished she’d fall in love with him. They’d fooled around a few times, but as good as it had been, it hadn’t been what either of them were looking for. They were not destined to be mates. Which saddened her. She had never expected to be given the chance to find her mate. At one time, it had been forbidden, in fact. She had already been spoken for, or she had been until her Alpha had finally come across someone he couldn’t threaten or beat into submission.
Lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t realized they’d started to move until Gray reached over and intertwined his fingers with hers. Kiley leaned back her head and closed her eyes.
“What does he want to see me for?”
Since the night she had been released from her own living Hell, she had tried to avoid contact with other shifters. Especially any Alpha. Tyler was okay, but he kept his distance. His daughter, Jesse, was what they had in common. Kiley loved Jesse and had babysat the young girl several times. Tyler wanted Jesse to have a strong female influence and it brought Kiley to the compound, so he could check on her. Kiley knew Tyler could get anyone from his Pack to watch the child, but she really liked the job.
Gray lifted Kiley’s palm to his face and ran his cheek over her knuckles before kissing the back of her hand. “I believe he has a job for you.”
Kiley began to get lost in the sensations Gray caused. She shivered as her body instantly heated. They might never be mates, but Gray still aroused her. “A job?” she breathed.
“There have been threats.”
Kiley blinked in surprise, pulling away to concentrate. “Threats? Against who? Tyler? Oh, my God, Jesse!”
“Yes,” Gray said with a frown. “The danger is to anyone who agrees to come out publicly. All Council members and Alphas.”
How horrible. While Kiley didn’t understand the need for the shifters to become public, there was no way she’d allow anyone to hurt the sweet Jesse. But even though she enjoyed watching over the girl, Tyler had enough guards to protect Jesse and the rest of the Pack. “Why does he need me?”
“Always so suspicious,” Gray commented.
Kiley grunted but didn’t reply.
Gray’s heavy sigh sounded loudly through the vehicle. “It’s complicated.”
Kiley nodded, even though he wasn’t looking at her. Fine. So Gray couldn’t tell her. Meaning the Alpha had to be the one to do that.
Tyler might be lax with her, but rules were rules. And from everything she knew about Gray, he followed Tyler’s orders. Always.
Hell, Gray had moved across the country behind Tyler when the Council had asked Tyler to take over the broken Pack Riker had left behind.
Had it only been a year since the new Alpha had come to Clear Water, Colorado? It seemed so long ago. In a matter of hours, her life had changed. Her Pack leader had been run off and now Tyler led.
Riker had been the Alpha who had led during her entire life.
Her entire tormented life.
Kiley didn’t know the other members of the Pack. By the time Riker had had control of her, she’d been separated from the Pack by her father. Too many bad memories had overshadowed the few from her childhood. There were some names she remembered, but she had never given them a thought once Riker had her. Lost and living in misery, Kiley had only tried to survive. Until the day the cellar door had opened and Tyler had stomped down the stairs.
She didn’t know who had been more shocked. Her or Tyler.
Tyler had almost fallen when he’d spotted her chained in the corner.
Kiley hadn’t known if Tyler was one of the men who Riker had brought by once in a while to use and abuse her, so she’d bared her teeth in warning.
Tyler had crouched down and made soothing sounds until he’d gotten close enough to release her. Kiley had been locked up for so long that even when the big, thick chains had been taken off, she hadn’t moved. God, she could still see the pity in Tyler’s gaze when he’d reached for her.
“Hey, you okay?”
Gray’s deep voice startled her from her memories.
“Sure,” she said quietly, rubbing her upper arms. She was so cold, like she’d been in that hellhole.
“Tyler will take care of you,” Gray said. “You should realize that.”
“Yeah,” Kiley said. She didn’t know what else to add. Tyler was a good Alpha and she trusted him as much as she trusted anyone. Which wasn’t a lot.
At least Tyler hadn’t pressured her into joining his Pack. He hadn’t pressured anyone. Most of the Pack had left and joined other established Packs before Tyler had even shown up. Kiley had heard some had returned, wanting to be back in their homes, but since Kiley had never met them, she didn’t care. They hadn’t even been aware of her existence.
Tyler had brought his own people with him, mixing her old Pack into a new one. The Pack grew even now. Kiley kept an eye out for new residents in town and for rumors that had to do with the local Pack. The city didn’t belong to shifters alone, but knowing the right people, Kiley heard what the Pack was up to.
She used the knowledge as a way to protect herself. Kiley wanted to watch those around her so she had advance warning if she needed to run. Or stay away from the Alpha compound like she’d wanted to do the upcoming weekend.
The meeting between Alphas to discuss going public was a big deal. Tyler had told her himself what the weekend meant, understanding she’d be nervous with all the guests showing up.
Tyler was thoughtful like that. He knew what she had gone through and, even if she didn’t belong to him or his Pack, he watched out for her. For that reason alone, Kiley vowed to help in any way possible.
As they left the city behind for the secluded woods where the Alpha’s home stood, tension invaded her body. Too many memories haunted her for Kiley to be able to control her fear.
As if he could feel Kiley’s growing nervousness, Gray smiled over at her. “We took some of the pups for their first shift this past weekend,” he told her.
“Really?” Kiley turned to lean against the door so she could see Gray better. “How’d that go?” It was nerve-racking the first time a newbie shifted with the Pack. Kiley still remembered the sickness she’d felt as she’d stared at the other kids her age when it had been her time.
The tradition of the Packs was for the high-ranking members to take the teenagers into the woods to spend time with them and show them the easiest way to call forward their wolf. Usually there was some sort of funny story or unexpected crisis that popped up.
“So Wyatt is working with Dean Johnson,” Gray began. “You remember Dean from Jesse’s birthday?”
“Yeah.” She recalled the skinny red-headed boy who’d spent most of the gathering under a tree, reading. “Quiet kid.”
Gray snorted. “Well, he wasn’t very quiet when Wyatt was giving him instructions on how to picture his wolf to bring forward the animal—and he only managed to shift his paws and tail. The boy was jumping around screeching and yelling.”
“Oh, my God!” Kiley managed in between gales of laughter.
Gray was also chuckling. “Wyatt’s trying to get a hold of Dean to calm him enough to finish the transformation, but Dean’s jumping around in a panic. Wyatt tripped and ended up with a face full of dirt.”
That made Kiley laugh even harder, thinking about the stoic man who was driving her vehicle at that moment.